Editor's note: The above video is from Aug. 3, 2015.
Kurt Warner and Steve Mariucci saw encouraging signs in 49ers training camp that point toward improved play this season from quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the pocket.
But the first big test will come Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings – and each week after the season opener. After all, only his performance in the games will determine whether the offseason alterations become permanent.
“We’re not going to know that stuff until he’s in those game situations over and over again and we see if he’s able to make some of those things normal or are we going to see what we’ve seen in the past, which is good,” Warner said on a conference call of NFL Network analysts. “But he wants to take it to the next level and do both things equally as well.”
Kaepernick is coming off a season in which he was sacked 52 times – the most in a single season for any quarterback in 49ers history. While his pass protection, obviously, was part of the problem, Kaepernick also did himself no favors. He did not appear comfortable from the pocket and often held the ball longer than necessary. Warner, who worked with Kaepernick in the offseason, believes it’s unacceptable for a player with Kaepernick’s mobility to get sacked so often.
“When we worked together in the offseason it was really just the idea of trying to get him comfortable in a throwing position. You see these guys like RG3 (Washington's Robert Griffin) and Colin Kaepernick that are such tremendous athletes that they’ve been able to rely on that athleticism for so long that becomes their normal,” Warner said. “Their normal position is being on the move and getting ready to run and creating things with their legs.”
Warner said the unknown as the 49ers enter the season is whether Kaepernick can adjust his mindset to remain a passer longer before bringing the ball down and beginning to scramble. Kaepernick rushed for a career-high 639 yards last season but lost 344 yards on sacks.
“It’s just being able to change the normal where that clock isn’t going off as fast and you’re not always looking to run and you can make some easy plays that make the quarterback position more easy in the long haul,” Warner said.
Mariucci said it was evident that Kaepernick was working on making changes. Mariucci, who coached the 49ers from 1997 to 2002, closely observed Kaepernick during one training camp practice last month in Santa Clara.
“I noticed Colin Kaepernick’s arm is the strongest arm that the 49ers quarterbacks have ever had – stronger than Joe’s and Steve’s and Jeff Garcia’s,” Mariucci said. “We know that, and he shows it every time he shows up at practice. But I saw a better presence in the pocket. I saw better touch on some short passes – short and intermediate passes that require him taking some velocity off. I saw a little bit of confidence.
“I think he’s going to have a heck of a year. I really do. It’s going to be tough because they’re missing so many parts to that football team that was built over time, but I think Colin Kaepernick will prove he’s an improved quarterback from the pocket, which is what we’ve been waiting for.”
The biggest thing Warner said he wants to see is for Kaepernick to use his legs as a passer – not as a runner. Kaepernick often in the past would throw flat-footed and rely solely on his arm strength.
“Some of the things he struggled with are the easier throws,” Warner said. “But without engaging his legs, he had to throw it 100 mph. And when you miss by a foot when you’re throwing 100 mph, you miss. If you’re able to take something off and allow your receivers to adjust to it, that’s something that leads to success for everybody.”